Both Parties Call for Northam's Resignation After Yearbook Photo Surfaces
The fallout continues over a decades-old racially offensive photo on the medical school yearbook page of Governor Ralph Northam.
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - The fallout continues over a decades-old racially offensive photo on the medical school yearbook page of Governor Ralph Northam.
On Friday, February 1, The Virginian-Pilot obtained a copy of the photo, which shows two men appearing in blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes, from Eastern Virginia Medical School library, which Northam attended. The photos were first published by the conservative news outlet Big League Politics. Eastern Virginia Medical School later confirmed that the picture in question appeared in a 1984 student-produced yearbook.
Shortly after 6 p.m. on Friday, Governor Northam apologized for appearing in the photo and released the following statement:
“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive.
“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.
“This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.
“I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”
But now, people on both sides of the aisle are calling for his resignation.
Larry Sabato, the director of University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, says this scandal is bad news for the state's image.
“That photo and the racist and offensive attitudes it represents does not reflect the person that I am today, or the way I have conducted myself as a soldier, a doctor, and a public servant,” Northam said in a video he tweeted out around 9 p.m. Friday.
“I would say Governor Northam is in deep, deep trouble,” Sabato said.
Governor Ralph Northam confirmed in a statement that he is one of the men dressed in racist costume in a 1984 yearbook photo and apologized for his actions, but Sabato says the apology is not enough.
“I cannot change the decision I made, nor can I undo the harm my behavior caused then and today ,” Northam said.
“He held back some critical information,” Sabato said. “He knows which of those two awful costumed characters he was, he didn't tell us, I'm not sure why.”
As politicians across the nation, both Republican and Democrat, call for the governor's resignation, Sabato says it's up to local lawmakers on whether or not Northam stays in office.
“It's really going to matter whether Democratic state senators and delegates decide that he's got to go,” Sabato said.
As of late Friday night, Northam has made no mention of resigning.
“I accept responsibility of my past actions and I am ready to do the hard work of regaining your trust,” Northam said.
So far, many Virginia Democrats are staying silent.
“There just comes a moment when you say, ‘that's it,’” Sabato said. “Now, why haven't they said that? In politics, if you stick your neck out too far, you're likely to get it chopped off.”
If Northam resigns, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax would assume the position and become Virginia’s second African-American governor.
“Now, you talk about a way to restore the state's image very quickly after this deeply embarrassing scandal?" Sabato said. "Have an African-American governor.".
Sabato also mentioned what some are calling a double standard, referencing the behavior of the president.
“The major argument against it is, well, what about Donald Trump,” Sabato said.
“That game of whataboutism is a game that you will always regret in the long run,” Sabato said. “If that's how you play the game of politics, then no one will ever be punished for much of anything because there's always a parallel example on the other side.”
The Republican Party of Virginia is calling for the governor's resignation, calling his actions “unforgivable.”
Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia, also called for Northam to step down, saying on Twitter: "This has been a heartbreaking day. Ralph Northam is my friend and he served well as my Lt. Governor and as Governor. His actions on display in this photo were racist, unacceptable and inexcusable at any age and any time."
Virginia 5th District Representative Denver Riggleman also commented on the photograph before the governor's statement, tweeting:
As a Virginian & Rep. of Charlottesville, @GovernorVA yearbook photos hit more than a nerve. This Virginian demands an explanation. Now. Issues of racial discrimination cannot be taken lightly & this type of behavior is dangerous & unacceptable in any formhttps://t.co/FnrIRyngoX— Congressman Denver Riggleman (@RepRiggleman) February 1, 2019
"We need to make this a non-party issue," Riggleman said. "Anybody who behaves like this we need to actually call out and we need to make sure they apologize."
Democratic State Senator Creigh Deeds also weighed in on the photo.
"I have seen the photo and read the governor's statement," Deeds said. "I'm sure we all have moments in our lives we're not proud of, and the important thing is that we learn from our past, grow, and move on."
Anna Scholl, who is the executive director at Progress Virginia, said Northam's photo is "racist, plain and simple. There is no excuse. it is an indelible reminder that racism is not a relic of the past, but deeply embedded in our society." She went on to say "it’s easy to criticize our opponents. It’s much harder to condemn our friends. Today we forcefully, unequivocally condemn this blatant display of racism and will continue to speak out against acts of bigotry in our community.”
The president of the NAACP has called for Northam's resignation, as have two Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Press Release from Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus:
Richmond—The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus released the following statement today:
“After seeing the yearbook pictures that surfaced of Governor Northam today, we were shocked, saddened and offended. Virginia has a complicated racial history and past, and those pictures certainly reflect that. Black face was used to ridicule African Americans and the Klan was a source of terror and intimidation. The racism engendered by these images was real then and resurrected by these images today. We are beyond disappointed.
“The Ralph Northam we know is a pediatric neurologist, a dedicated public servant, and a committed husband and father. Nevertheless, it is with heavy hearts that we have respectfully asked him to step down.”
Press Release from Virginia House Democratic Caucus:
Richmond (February 1, 2019) -- The House Democratic Caucus issues the following statement:
"We are so deeply saddened by the news that has been revealed today. We are having trouble reconciling our experience with Governor Northam with what we see in this photo. The Governor Northam we know is a great friend and ally, who has served and dedicated himself to our Commonwealth and the nation.
"However, constituents' trust in their elected officials is paramount. We regret to say that we are no longer confident in the Governor's representation of Virginians. Though it brings us no joy to do so, we must call for Governor Northam's resignation."
57th District Delegate Toscano Calls on Governor Northam to Resign:
The yearbook photograph of Governor Ralph Northam that went viral yesterday is outrageously offensive and deeply troubling. Excuses that this might simply have been a youthful indiscretion or happened in an era when race relations in the South were different fail to recognize that this was apparently published in 1984, not 1954, and that the Governor was in his mid-twenties and in medical school at the time.
In an era of instantaneous news and reaction, it usually makes sense to carefully consider the best course of action, and to gather facts and perspectives to ensure that haste does not overtake good judgment. Like my fellow Democrats in the General Assembly, I knew we needed to make space for the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus to meet with the Governor and determine their course of action. It is now clear that while the Governor has done many good things in his career, and has been fighting for those most in need throughout his public life, he has lost the moral high ground at the core of his leadership. It makes it almost impossible for him to govern. I say this with the heaviest of hearts, but his ability to make further progress on his promises to Virginians has been so severely compromised that the best course for the Commonwealth is for him to resign."